The History of Waldorf Education
Developed by Rudolf Steiner in 1919, Waldorf Education is based on a profound understanding of human development that addresses the needs of the growing child. Waldorf teachers strive to transform education into an art that educates the whole child—the heart and the hands, as well as the head.
When you enter a Waldorf school, the first thing you may notice is the care given to the building. The walls are painted in lively colors and are adorned with student artwork. Evidence of student activity is everywhere to be found and every desk holds a uniquely created main lesson book.
Another first impression may be the enthusiasm and commitment of the teachers you meet. These teachers are interested in the students as individuals. They are interested in the questions:
• How do we establish within each child his or her own high level of academic excellence?
• How do we call forth enthusiasm for learning and work, a healthy self-awareness, interest and concern for fellow human beings, and a respect for the world?
• How can we help students find meaning in their lives?
Teachers in Waldorf schools are dedicated to generating an inner enthusiasm for learning within every child. They achieve this in a variety of ways. Even seemingly dry and academic subjects are presented in a pictorial and dynamic manner. This eliminates the need for competitive testing, academic placement, and behavioristic rewards to motivate learning. It allows motivation to arise from within and helps engender the capacity for joyful lifelong learning.
The Waldorf curriculum is broad and comprehensive, structured to respond to the three developmental phases of childhood: from birth to approximately 6 or 7 years, from 7 to 14 years and from 14 to 18 years. Rudolf Steiner stressed to teachers that the best way to provide meaningful support for the child is to comprehend these phases fully and to bring “age appropriate” content to the children that nourishes healthy growth.
This article originally appeared in the AWSNA publication,
Windows into Waldorf: An Introduction to Waldorf Education. Many thanks to the author David Mitchell who generously allowed for its use.
The History of CWS
The Cincinnati Waldorf School was founded by a group of dedicated teachers and parents in 1973. The school began with an Early Childhood class of 12 children on Resor Street in Clifton. In 2006 the school began offering a full grade school program, 1-8, and early childhood programming at Meshewa Farm in Indian Hill. In 2013, the Cincinnati Waldorf School opened in its doors in its permanent location in the historic Village of Mariemont, about 10 miles east of downtown Cincinnati, with an enrollment of 209 students. Our high school opened less than a mile up the road in Madisonville in 2018, and now enrolls grades 9-12. Our current enrollment across the grades is 260 students and growing. Our faculty consists of a talented group of trained Waldorf teachers and administrators dedicated to Waldorf education and its philosophy.
Stanford University Reviews Waldorf Education
Stanford University conducted a multi-year, rigorous analysis of Waldorf education that resulted in a 139-page report (December 2015).
What information did Stanford look at?
Stanford reviewed Waldorf student performance on standardized tests, engagement (love of learning) and rates of problematic behavior (resulting in suspensions) in the Sacramento Unified School District. Stanford used quantitative (or rigorous statistical) methods on a large dataset of more than 118,000 students, consisting of 23,000-24,000 students from 3rd to 8th grade over a five-year period.
What did Stanford find?
significantly higher positive student achievement outcomes on standardized state assessments by Waldorf students, greater engagement and significantly lower disciplinary action and truancy. These results held across the subsets of African American, Latino and socio-economically disadvantaged students. They also accounted for the initial lag owing to the planned Waldorf progression in education.
The Sacramento schools District Superintendent (2009-2013) described his first visit to a Waldorf school, before he began a committed campaign to bring the Waldorf philosophy to the Sacramento school system:
“[T]here was such a sweetness—there was a garden, there were mud boots outside of the door, children were singing, and I was taken by that. I visited every classroom and ended up staying for two-and-a-half hours. I was impressed by the physical setup of the classrooms, the calm demeanor of the teachers and the students, the children’s respectful attitudes; by eurythmy, music, violin. This was a school where students, staff, and parents were happy. I liked that.”
Why does happiness matter?
We all want our children to be happy but too often, we assume that “sweetness” or “being happy” means weakness or is a barrier to performance. As the Stanford study shows, that’s incorrect, at least for Waldorf Schools, where a better environment translates directly to kids who outperform their peers, particularly in math at 5th grade and above. The fact that Waldorf students have lower rates of angst and feel “life ready” is the icing on the cake.
The Stanford assessment underscores the results of a peer-reviewed, published nationwide study of American Waldorf schools, titled
Twenty Years and Counting: A Look at Waldorf in the Public Sector Using Online Sources, by Drs. Abigail L. Larrison, Alan J. Daly and Carol VanVooren (published in Current Issues in Education, 2012). These scientists, led by neuroscientist Larrison, not only found that
Waldorf students significantly outperform their peers on standardized tests at the end of their middle school curriculum (8th grade), they emphasize that Waldorf students’ superior performance occurs even though the students do not have a history of taking standardized tests. These scientists also highlighted the need to correct the
misperception that Waldorf education is somehow less rigorous, because it is more responsive to children at their developmental stage and holistic. The scientists also noted that some of the Waldorf school skill sets in the middle grades, including high achievement in languages and music, simply do not exist in a way that would allow comparison to non-Waldorf schools.
To read the entire study, the Stanford report is available
The Sacramento-based school information is available
Twenty Years and Counting is available here.